When workers are rioting because their lives are so awful that there’s absolutely nothing to lose, it’s pretty bloody awful. Let’s just hope international pressure continues to push Apple to “work with Foxconn” to improve conditions. After all, what power does one of the world’s most influential corporations really have to dictate the conditions of work for its manufacturers??? And of course, since consumers clearly won’t pay a penny more to acquire the coolness of an Apple product, the idea of creating work conditions that would make suicide nets unnecessary is obviously impossible……
Author Page for Erik Loomis
Sometimes, it’s hard for me to write about environmental issues because it makes me want to cry. One example is white nose syndrome, a fungus that is devastating the bat population of the east and will quite possibly send every population of hibernating bats into extinction. But at least the Nature Conservancy is working with some universities to try and figure out what the heck is going on. That’s a sign of hope at least.
Paul Ryan once was good on an issue–stopping the idiocy of the Cuban embargo. But now, since his party needs to pander to a disappearing number of disproportionally powerful aging right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami in order to win a swing state, Ryan has “learned” that the Castro regime is the greatest evil ever known to humankind and a clear threat to American national sovereignty and world freedom. And thus the embargo must be continued in order to destabilize the Castro regime. Surely after another 50 years, it’s bound to work!
Barring a burst of productivity in the lame-duck session in November and December, the 112th Congress is set to enter the Congressional record books as the least productive body in the post-World War II era. It had passed a mere 173 public laws as of last month. That was well below the 906 enacted from January 1947 through December 1948 by the body President Harry S. Truman referred to as the “do-nothing” Congress, and far fewer than many prior Congresses have passed in a single session.
It’s entirely understandable why presidents of both parties are centralizing authority in the executive branch. Why even bother with the dysfunctional legislative branch.
On September 22, 1946, the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers of America (FTA) reached a contract agreement with the Piedmont Tobacco Company, marking an early victory in the CIO’s Operation Dixie campaign.
In the aftermath of the World War II, the Congress of Industrial Organizations wanted to expand American unionism to southern factory work. It faced a huge problem in doing this–a problem it had experienced in northern unionized factories–racial animosity at the workplace. Could class solidarity overcome the combined enemies of racial prejudice and employer race-baiting? The CIO bet that it could. Moreover, the CIO knew it had better work because it could see the writing on the wall. It knew that companies were already looking for cheap, nonunion labor in the South. If it couldn’t organize the South, then what was already happening in the textile industry would decimate American unions throughout the North.
As the CIO was planning Operation Dixie, tobacco workers in Winston-Salem, North Carolina went on strike. The tobacco leaf houses were highly segregated workplaces. The CIO knew it could not organize the South without breaking down segregation at work. Among the most segregated workplaces were the tobacco factories. Low-wage black labor made up the majority of the workforce for the job of stripping tobacco leaves from the stems, a difficult process to mechanize.
One of the largest factories was the R.J. Reynolds factory in Winston-Salem. Workers had joined Local 22 of the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural & Allied Workers of America in 1943, winning collective bargaining rights and giving African-American workers access to political power for the first time since the white supremacist crushing of the biracial Populist coalition in eastern North Carolina at the end of the 19th century. The FTA was a radical union with significant connections to communists in the North and a deep commitment to fighting for class inequalities and racial prejudice.
By 1946, R.J. Reynolds was an extremely profitable company as it fully benefited from the postwar economic boom. Workers around the nation were striking for better wages since their earning power had been so negatively effected by inflation and price controls stemming back to 1942. The contract the FTA signed in 1943 was up that May and the union determined to fight for better rights for all its workers. Local 22 had several demands–reduction of racial inequity in wages, paid holidays, and a seniority system that would prevent the company from eliminating areas of the workforce strongly union through mechanization. In fact, R.J. Reynolds had been doing just that–since the 1943 contract, the company had invested heavily into stemming technologies to undermine the black union militants in that job. In 1945, RJ Reynolds employed 3533 workers in the stemmeries. In 1946, that number had fallen to 1415. Nearly every one of those laid off workers was a black union member.
At first, R.J. Reynolds refused to negotiate on any issue, especially the seniority system. But fearful of a strike affecting the opening of the yearly tobacco markets, the company flinched when Local 22 called for a strike to begin on July 15. The company caved on most issues, including taking power away from foremen to play workers off each other through granting arbitrary raises to workers they liked.
That was the easy part. The independent tobacco houses were even more intransigent. Attention focused on the Piedmont Tobacco Company. Growing militant leadership at the small leaf houses were ready to provide a strong challenge to racial segregation and poor pay and working conditions in these companies. The union and its supporters believed that the intransigence of the small companies came from racial prejudice, with executives angry that black workers had gained rights. One small company fell on July 31, signing a contract with Local 22. The other companies attempted to hold out. Strikers marched in downtown Winston-Salem, showing pictures of the shacks where they lived on their placards, asking onlookers, “Would you like to live here?”
The strike continued. On August 23, the police cracked down. A truck broke the picket line. The police facilitated this but didn’t give the strikers time to move. The strikers fought back. One, a woman named Margaret DeGraffenreid, was arrested and beaten, suffering a head injury. Reynolds workers joined the fray and scuffles with police broke out along the line, fights that were essentially racial in nature. 3 workers, including a writer for The Workers’ Voice, a communist newspaper out of New York, were sentenced to hard labor.
Despite this repression, the black workers of Winston-Salem continued pressing on. They worked with the largely white farmers of the North Carolina Farm Bureau to build a farmer-worker alliance. Despite the racial tensions that I’m sure were there, it was so much in the interests of the tobacco farmers to get their crops to market, that the Farm Bureau put pressure on the leaf companies to agree to a contract.
On September 22, the FTA and Piedmont signed a contract that was a minor victory for the union–no union shop (although the companies were 90% unionized at this point), but some wage hikes and the first paid holidays these workers ever had–July 4, Labor Day, and Christmas. But the fact that they even agreed to a contract in the first place was an important victory.
After winning in Winston-Salem, the union expanded quickly through the tobacco factories of North Carolina, winning 22 of 24 union elections, a total of around 10,000 workers. The CIO officially announced Operation Dixie in its aftermath, sending 200 organizers around the South to organize the region on an industrial basis.
Ultimately, Operation Dixie failed, a topic that will receive attention again in this series. Despite the early victory in Winston-Salem an the other regional tobacco factories, McCarthyism and Taft-Hartley combined to destroy Operation Dixie and undermine CIO radicalism. The northern communists the CIO relied upon for organizers and publicists were expelled from the labor movement. The right to work rules in the Taft-Hartley Act gave southern states a major tool to beat back the incipient unionization they faced during Operation Dixie. Without the radical edge, there really wasn’t much of a reason for the CIO to exist independently of the American Federation of Labor, leading to their reunion in 1955. And the strike didn’t really lead to long-term unionization of the leaf factories. With the ejection of the communists from the FTA, the CIO sought to undermine its own union to purge the left. In 1950, divided, R.J. Reynolds busted the union entirely.
All in all then, the defeat of Operation Dixie is a fundamental moment in the history of American labor’s decline. Maybe it didn’t have to be that way.
Much of the information for this post comes from Robert Korstad’s Civil Rights Unionism: Tobacco Workers and the Struggle for Democracy in the Mid-Twentieth-Century South. You should read this book.
This is the 42nd post in this series. You can read the rest of the series here.
It’s hardly surprising that a school full of the douchiest basketball fans in the world like Duke would also lead the nation in grade inflation. I mean, when you have worse grade inflation than Harvard, you are really saying something. Do Duke students just get an 4.0 when they write their tuition checks?
Romney truly is running his campaign like American corporations have run the economy–deliver a failing product but pay the high-ranking officials obscene bonuses:
Another set of expenditures is likely to draw grumbles from Mr. Romney’s allies given his campaign’s current struggles: The day after accepting the Republican nomination, Mr. Romney gave what appeared to be $192,440 in bonuses to senior campaign staff members. At least nine aides received payments on Aug. 31 well in excess of their typical biweekly salaries, including $25,000 each for Matthew Rhoades, the campaign manager; Lanhee Chen, a policy adviser; and Katie Biber, the general counsel. Rich Beeson, the political director, received $37,500.
I mean, by Wall Street logic, I guess you have to do this right. Whereas Wall Street execs need huge bonuses so they don’t run off into the high-flying world of teaching high school business classes, Romney’s top advisers may well bail to the Obama campaign without their bonuses!
I’ve mostly sat out the recent rehashing of the Nader Wars here. Like Rob and Scott, I have grown deeply critical of Ralph Nader and his 2000 presidential campaign. But I come from a very different place on this. I was a Nader voter. And not one living in a safe state–I was in New Mexico in 2000. There was a time, relatively early in the evening, when I actually wondered out loud whether I might know enough Nader voters to swing the state to Bush. Like a lot of you, I was deeply disappointed in Bill Clinton and the continued rightward swing of the Democratic Party. I can’t speak for anyone else and I can’t say whether this really mattered for too many people in the end, but the last straw for me was when Gore picked Lieberman as VP. I almost puked when that was announced. And I was done with the Democratic Party.
So I was a Nader voter. I saw him speak that fall, as he increased his campaign presence in states he could plausibly throw to Bush like New Mexico and Florida. It wasn’t totally inspiring to me, largely because there were too many aging Santa Fe hippies at his events who I already knew were too often about slogans and not often enough about doing the work to create long-term change. And I was a bit concerned that Nader himself refused to join the Green Party. If he believed in challenging the two-party structure, where was his own commitment to that change? Was this just about his own beef with the Democrats? Or did he really want to usurp the Democratic Party as the nation’s party of the left?
Soon after Bush’s election, I realized the folly of my own political errors and regretted my Nader vote. In 2004, I wasn’t that thrilled with any of the Democratic primary candidates. I rolled my eyes a bit at the Dean boom, not because I wasn’t against the war but because he was hardly progressive on many issues. Still, I certainly wasn’t voting for Nader again. But my transformation back into the Democratic Party wasn’t just because Bush was so awful. It was because Nader had done absolutely nothing in the previous four years to build upon the 2000 run and create a progressive movement in this country. It was just more of the same in ’04, Nader complaining about the Democrats but offering no real substantive change except for rhetoric. I was more than just disillusioned. I was kind of disgusted. For Ralph, it’s all about Ralph. He is still mad that the Carter Administration froze him out after the ’78 midterms, or at least that’s the lesson I learned from the documentary about him, An Unreasonable Man. And that disgust at the Democrats seems to have taken hold of him, becoming an all-consuming hate.
In that documentary, Eric Alterman calls Nader a Leninist because he believes things have to get worse before they get better. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But it doesn’t really matter to me here. Because my fundamental problem is as much with Nader’s supporters as with the ultimate vanity candidate.
The best way I can explain this is to refer to the literature on the rise of conservatism. A really transformative moment in my political thinking came when reading Lisa McGirr’s Suburban Warriors. In this book about the rise of conservatism in the defense industry suburbs, McGirr shows how conservatives, outraged that the country had moved so far to the left during the New Deal and had not really shifted back right under Eisenhower, started taking over their local political structures. They ran for school board, county commissioner, other local offices. They volunteered at county-level Republican Party HQs. They very quickly controlled the machinery of the Republican Party on the local level. Not too long after that, in 1964, they managed to push Goldwater on the presidential ticket. When he got crushed, the mainstream media crowed that this movement was dead. But the conservatives didn’t care. They kept on organizing. In 1966, their support helped Ronald Reagan become governor of California. And from there, they kept organizing until today, despite being totally crazy on so many issues, they are the Republican Party.
Meanwhile, progressives have responded to the country’s rightward shift by running vanity candidates like Ralph Nader for president every four years. In 2008, progressives changed strategies when Barack Obama seemed to capture their dreams and then were shocked when he turned out to be the centrist he always was. But even in 2008, it was still a simplistic analysis of progressive change offered by his supporters that hadn’t learned much in the previous 8 years.
I oversimplify, sure. But the trajectory of the conservative movement should be teaching us many lessons. Not that we should be crazy extremists. But that party structures are actually not that hard to take over if you really want to do it. Yet progressives seem to almost NEVER talk about localized politics. We complain about education reform but don’t organize to take over school boards. Conservatives outflank us in part because they seem to understand that the presidency is not all-powerful. Perhaps local offices like county clerk and elected judges are as or even more important than the presidency, at least from a long-term perspective. Too many progressives believe in Green Lantern presidencies. Elect Obama in ’08 and he can force through all the changes we want.
No. That’s not how it works.
You turn the Democratic Party into what you want it to be by controlling the mechanisms of everyday party life. By becoming a force that must be reckoned with or at least co-opted. By becoming the Populists in the 1880s and 1890s, eventually forcing the Democratic Party off its Cleveland-era support of plutocracy and helping usher in the Progressive Era. By becoming the abolitionists in the 1850s and 1860s, whose constant moral harping gave them power within the Republican Party far outstripping the small number of fanatical followers of William Lloyd Garrison.
And by becoming conservatives in the 1960s who burrow into the Republican Party structure and transform it from within.
Ralph Nader cared about none of this. He wasn’t committed to a real leftist movement. He wasn’t committed to pushing progressive change from either within or outside the system. He took no leadership positions within progressive movements after 2000 to move the country back to the left except to make another vanity run for president in ’04.
One-off candidates like Nader accomplish almost nothing except to give people an outlet for their anger at a political system they think has betrayed them. These candidacies are performance art done to make a point, in Nader’s case explicitly to throw the election to Bush.
I have no problem at all with a third-party candidacy from the left–if it is a real third party that is serious about making a long-term challenge to the Democratic Party. I would still be philosophically OK with his 2000 run today, even with what we know now, if Nader had cared one iota about doing what it actually took to create a progressive party not controlled by big money interests. Whether that happened inside or outside the Democratic Party, it doesn’t much matter to me. But he didn’t care.
In the end, Ralph Nader became a tool of the capitalists and warmongers rather the force for progressive change he was early in his career. It’s sad for his legacy and for the country. And I wish his supporters would learn the lessons from his candidacy that I learned. To repeat those lessons are:
1. Vanity presidential campaigns are completely worthless without a commitment to building long-term party structures that have the explicit goal of transforming our politics at the local, state, and national level–and probably in that order.
2. Real change comes from below, not above. In other words, real change comes from local organizing and local elections, not running someone for president every four years.
3. Progressives can move the nation to the left. But not by “making a point” in their presidential vote during the general election. They can do it by taking over the local and state party machinery. Or they can do it by committing themselves and their neighbors to a third party (which I don’t think is realistic today but that’s for another post). But voting for a Ralph Nader or whatever prominent savior comes next to shame the mainstream Democratic Party has very little value.
So that’s my critique of Nader and watching the debates around his candidacy unfold for the last 12 years. I see an angry embittered man leading a lot of well-meaning progressives down a road that helped elect George W. Bush and did absolutely nothing to turn the Democratic Party to the left. Did any concrete positive come out of the Nader campaigns? Did it directly lead to any progressive change? Or is the most concrete thing we can tie to it the election of George W. Bush?
I’ve read numerous articles this year on the potential unreliability of polling since so many people don’t have land lines anymore. And given the demographic realities of the voters, I’ve wondered if the inability to include cell phones means Obama has a larger and statistically important advantage not being seen. Nate Silver is beginning to suggest there could be some truth in this:
In one of the forecasts, I ran the numbers based solely on polls that do include cellphones in their samples. The vast majority of these polls also use live interviewers, since federal law prohibits automated calls to cellphones under most circumstances. (Note, however, that one or two mostly automated polling firms, like SurveyUSA, use a separate sample based on live interviewers to reach cellphone-only voters; these were included in the model run.)
In this universe, Mr. Obama seems poised for victory. The model forecasts him for a 4.1 percentage points win in the national popular vote. That compares with 2.9 percentage points in the regular FiveThirtyEight forecast, which includes polls both with and without cellphones.
Mr. Obama’s advantage is also clearer in the swing states. The cellphone-inclusive polls give him an 80 percent chance to win Virginia, a 79 percent chance in Ohio, and a 68 percent chance to win Florida, all considerably higher than in the official FiveThirtyEight forecast.
Overall, this version of the model gives Mr. Obama an 83 percent chance of winning the Electoral College, a full 10 percentage points higher than the 73 percent chance that the official FiveThirtyEight forecast gave him as of Monday night. So the methodological differences are showing up in a big way this year.
He provides swing state numbers as well. If this means a 1% swing toward Obama, that’s huge. If it means a 2% swing, it is game-changing.
Doesn’t look as if that weekends at the White House prediction is looking too good though, unless President Obama is so taken with Mittens that he invites him over for some of those White House home brews some Saturday in the summer of 2013. Which, in the end, seems a touch unlikely.
I’m sorry, but Romney does not get the good leads. He’s looking more and more like Jack Lemmon every second.